Nearly every county in Georgia is named after a president, state-wide elected official, Indian chief, military officer/hero, physician, or lawyer. This is a story of a self-made man who was honored by the state of Georgia, which named one of its last counties in his honor. On August 14, 1920, the new county of Brantley was created and named in honor of one of Pierce County's founding fathers and leading citizens, Benjamin D. Brantley (formerly of Laurens County.) Brantley County was carved out of the larger counties of Pierce, Wayne, and Charlton. Brantley joined Gov. George M. Troup and James Walker Fannin as the only Laurens Countians to have Georgia counties named in their honor.
Benjamin Daniel Brantley was born on January 14, 1832 in Laurens County, a son of Benjamin Brantley and Elizabeth Daniel. Brantley's family came to Laurens County from North Carolina. His mother grew up in Laurens County. Born into a somewhat meager existence, his life was forever changed by the death of his father when Benjamin was only a few weeks old. Benjamin was originally born with the name of Joseph, in honor of his paternal grandfather. His name was changed to Benjamin Daniel in honor of his father and his mother's maiden name.
About five years after Benjamin Brantley's death, Mrs. Brantley and her three children moved to Montgomery County. Benjamin spent his early years working on the farm and learning the value of hard work. As he approached manhood, Brantley followed his brother William to Ware County where he worked as a clerk in his brother's store. Benjamin's sister married Judge John McRae, the founder of Alamo, Georgia. Benjamin married Jennette McRae, daughter of Christopher and Christian McCrimmon McRae. To this marriage were born seven children: Christian, Margaret, William, Archibald, Benjamin, John, and Jeanette.
Benjamin Brantley moved to Blackshear in Pierce County in 1857. He entered into a business partnership with Alex Douglas under the firm name of Brantley and Douglas. Brantley wisely got in on the ground floor in Blackshear just before the railroad came and established the town as a regional trading center. Brantley enlisted in the 4th Georgia Cavalry during the Civil War. He resigned from the service in 1864 when he was elected Clerk of the Superior Court of Pierce County for one four-year term.
In 1870, he entered into a new partnership under the name of Brantley and Company with William Sessions, Judge of the Brunswick Circuit. In 1873, Brantley was elected to represent Pierce County in the Georgia legislature. He served as County Treasurer, for eighteen years beginning in 1876. After Judge Sessions moved to Marietta and left the firm in 1878, Benjamin Brantley went into business with his sons, William and Archibald. William was admitted to the bar and Benjamin, Jr. took his place. The firm conducted business under the name of the A.P. Brantley Company. The company was a diversified one, conducting a bank, an oil mill, a tobacco warehouse, a potato warehouse, a cotton gin, a fertilizer plant, a general store, and several large farms.
Benjamin Daniel Brantley died at his home in Blackshear, Georgia on March 18, 1891. Interestingly, his home town was named in honor of the venerable Gen. David Blackshear of Laurens County. Benjamin Brantley, with only a meager education, knew the value of agriculture and timber in his community. He built and operated the first turpentine still in Pierce County. He was also a leader in the industrial, religious, and educational progress of his county. He was known to be a man of outstanding man of moral character - never drinking or smoking and never knowing one playing card from the other. Just what accomplishments Brantley would have made to his county had he lived beyond his 59 years will never be known.
William Gordon Brantley, son of Benjamin D. Brantley, graduated from the University of Georgia. He studied law in the office of former Congressman, John C. Nichols. At the age of twenty two, he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives. He grew a mustache to make him look older and shaved it off after the election. After two terms, the young Brantley was elected to the State Senate and at the age of twenty six, was elected its president. He served as Solicitor General of the Brunswick Circuit for eight years.
In 1896, William G. Brantley was elected to the United States Congress from the old 11th District and served for sixteen years without opposition until 1913. William Brantley served on the powerful Judiciary and Ways & Means Committees.
Cong. Brantley was instrumental in the building of the brick post office on East Madison Street in Dublin and in improvements made to Georgia's rivers, including the improvement of the navigation of the Oconee River.
William Brantley left the Congress in 1913 to set up a private law practice in Atlanta. Washington remained in Brantley's blood and after a short stay in Georgia, he returned to the capital city. Brantley became associated with the Federal evaluation of southern railroads. He also served as vice president and general counsel of the Fruit Growers Express Company and the Burlington Express Company. W.G. Brantley died in Washington, D.C. on September 12, 1934. His body was returned home for burial in Blackshear. Among the wreaths of flowers was one sent by Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt.